Today I want to discuss a very important topic that's not talked about enough in the fitness community: injury prevention. Don't get me wrong, a lot has been said about treating injuries, but injury prevention isn't getting the attention that it ought to have.

 

 

Injuries suck, and while it might seem like a lot of time-consuming work to do all of the stuff you're about to learn, getting injured can keep you out of the gym for months at a time. Sadly, I've noticed that nearly nobody does that’s needed to prevent injuries to a sufficient extent or with any consistency.

 

I learned this lesson the hard way, as I failed to listen to my body, which resulted in me getting seriously injured. I struggled with crippling tennis elbow in both arms that prevented me from doing upper body exercises for 18 months. So take it from me: all of the time and effort you put into injury prevention will pay off tenfold.

 

Luckily, most injuries in the gym are quite easily prevented. You just have to avoid the following 10 mistakes.

 

Inadequate Warm Up

An inadequate or non-existent warm up is one of the primary factors leading to injuries in the gym. We all know how important it is to warm up our muscles, joints, and connective tissue before a gym session, yet we've all skipped our warm up when we've been particularly short on time. We knew that skipping our warm up was not a good idea, yet we decided to compromise in order to save what, 10 minutes?

 

That hurried shortsightedness can cause us a lot of pain and frustration, and can cost us a lot of money. And ironically, a lot of time out of the gym, too. Don’t compromise when it comes to your warm up, even if that means cutting your workout short. After all, you can always hit the gym another day. But you might not be able to do that if you got seriously injured because of skipping your warm up.

 

What to do instead:

 

Include a 6-10min general warm up routine before every single workout session. The goal of warming up is to get your muscles, joints and connective tissue ready for some serious action. More specifically, you want to stimulate joint lubrication, increase core temperature and blood flow to local tissue, and activate neuromuscular coordination and stabilization.

 

Your warm up routine should also prepare you mentally for the tough workout ahead, and by the end of your warm up, you should be in a mental state primed for focused action. Depending on your training program and the muscle groups you're going to be training that day, you'll want to customize your warm up to focus more on those muscle groups and their corresponding joints.

 

Incorrect Exercise Technique

Poor technique is another common factor that leads to injuries in the gym. The only reason more people don’t get injured from their bad form is because they're still too weak to damage their connective tissue.

 

What to do instead:

 

Injuries due to incorrect lifting technique are easily preventable. Focus on learning the movement with proper form using just your bodyweight first, and only once you have it down, add an external load like a barbell.

 

Even if you don't have access to a great personal trainer, in today's day and age, you have all the information you need about proper technique at your fingertips. A simple Google search will bring you countless articles and videos detailing how to properly do any exercise in your training program. Study all you can find, and start with very light weights, if any at all. The point in the beginning is to program your nervous system to execute the movement properly. It is not to stimulate muscle growth or strength—yet. 

 

Only perfect practice makes perfect. When you're learning a new movement, make sure to execute every single rep as perfectly as you can. You do not want to learn a new movement incorrectly, as that can not only lead to injury, but it is also very hard to unlearn bad habits once they are formed.

 

Too Much Weight

This mistake is closely related to the previous one. If you're a more experienced athlete, what you've probably noticed is that even if you have the correct technique of an exercise down, your form will break down at some point as you add more weight.

 

That's simply because you always have a weak link that will give out first. That's normal. But in chasing bigger and bigger poundage, a lot of guys disregard their form breaking down, which puts them in a very vulnerable position.

 

What to do instead:

 

If you feel that you're reaching the point where your form is starting to break down and your weak link is giving out, stop. Better safe than sorry. Keep your ego out of the gym, and lower the weight or cut the volume.

 

The portion of the movement where your form starts to falter will indicate where your weak link in the movement lies. Make sure to do specific work for your weak link to strengthen it, so you can build strength safely and consistently.

 

Skipping Mobility and Soft Tissue Work

If a muscle is tight and stiff, it and the surrounding joints and tissues are vulnerable to injury. That's why having proper mobility is imperative for staying out of trouble in the gym.

 

How many of us dedicate time for stretching and soft tissue work on a regular basis? I am as guilty as anyone of not doing it consistently enough, and that's one thing that might have led to my injuries.

 

What to do instead:

 

Dedicate time (outside of your workouts) specifically for stretching and soft tissue work. Do this once weekly, at the very least. You want to make sure that your muscles have proper length and are not tight and stiff. Address any trigger points you might have in order to prevent myofascial pain. Foam rolling and massages using a lacrosse ball are great tools for that.

 

Developing Muscle Imbalances

As you probably know, muscle imbalances can cause some pretty nasty injuries. The role of our muscles is to initiate and control movements of bones. That makes them our best shock absorbers. In order for our muscles to carry out those functions, they must work in groups referred to as agonist and antagonist. The first initiates the movement, and the second controls the movement. For example, during a dumbbell curl, the agonist is the biceps and the antagonist is the triceps.

 

But if a muscle fatigues because of prolonged physical activity, then it is no longer an effective shock absorber. Muscle imbalances are caused by weakness, lack of flexibility, or poor endurance in either the agonist or antagonist.

 

For example, hamstring muscle tightness coupled with quadriceps weakness often results in anterior knee pain, because the tight hamstrings increase the compressive forces on the kneecap. Those compressive forces would usually be offset by a pair of adequately strengthened quadriceps muscles, but the combination of weak quads and tight hamstrings leads to knee pain, and maybe even to a more serious injury down the road.

 

What to do instead:

 

The best way to fix muscle imbalances is through stretching and soft tissue work on tight muscles, and strength training for weak muscles.

 

The reason why muscle imbalances are so common is because the average trainee goes to the gym to work on their "show off" muscles like chest and arms, and disregards other equally important but not so visually impressive muscles like the rotator cuff muscles. If you're in this for the long run, and you want to be healthy and strong in older age, then you need to pay attention to and strengthen all muscles, instead of just doing curls for the girls. Don't neglect any part of your body, and you'll stay away from muscle imbalances and associated injuries.

 

Bad Spotting

These are the ones that go viral on YouTube. Bad spotting is another factor often leading to injury. Your spotter is the person that's supposed to help you push yourself beyond your comfort zone, while still staying safe. That's why you can't afford to have your spotter disengaged and unfocused.

 

What to do instead:

 

Find a spotter who will take the responsibility seriously. If you don't have a dedicated gym buddy and you're just grabbing a random person in the gym, you should also make sure to instruct them on how to spot you correctly, just in case they don’t actually know.

 

If you get stuck, a good spotter will help you just enough to finish the rep, without yanking the weight off of you in an abrupt manner. That is, unless you're completely out of it, in which case you overestimated your strength.

 

Overtraining

Overtraining simply means training beyond your ability to recover in a timely manner. As such, many people in the fitness industry say that there is no such thing as overtraining, just "under recovering."

 

In this case though, what I'm referring to is overuse injuries caused by too much of the same movement pattern. The truth is that some types of tissue recover much slower than others. It might take your muscles around 72 hours to fully recover from a tough workout, but some connective tissues may take longer.

 

Overuse injuries are often caused by repetitive motions over a prolonged period of time. Micro-tears can accumulate in tendons and ligaments. And once injured, tendons and ligaments take a very, very long time to heal. I'm talking months, and in some cases, years.

 

What to do instead:

 

Even the best exercises can cause damage if used to excess, which is why you want to periodically cycle through different exercises for the same muscle group. That way, you can stay away from repetitive movement patterns, and from overuse injuries. Again, make sure to do soft tissue work and stretching for tight muscles, as that can reduce the wear and tear on the corresponding joints and connective tissue.

 

Poor Nutrition

Eating junk will only increase the stress that your body has to endure, and that can be a factor contributing to injury. Very low reps with heavy weights, coupled with severe dieting, don't mesh together too well, either. Your body needs the necessary energy and materials to repair itself, and if you train very hard and don't feed your body accordingly, you're inviting injury.

 

What to do instead:

 

Give your body what it needs to handle the work you’re asking of it. Make sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet and cut out the junk food. Also, save the super low reps with heavy weights for periods of growth. Not only will handling your nutrition help prevent injuries in the gym, but it will also make you feel better and healthier in your everyday life.

 

Poor Recovery

Far too many athletes train hard, and then completely disregard their recovery. They don't have the habit of drinking enough water, don't get enough sleep, and overdo it on the weekends. Then they hit the gym hard again on Monday, and their form implodes or they strain a muscle because it wasn’t ready to go again.

 

What to do instead:

 

A big part of proper recovery is nutrition and soft tissue work, which we already covered. But there are other important contributing factors:

 

  • Sleep: You need to be getting at least 7.5-8 hours of quality sleep, every single night. If you're not doing so, you're not really serious about your fitness goals. Simple as that.
  • Drink: Get in the habit of drinking 3-4 liters of water per day.
  • Rest: Maybe this sounds crazy, but you need to actually rest on rest days. Far too many trainees can't seem to sit still, and instead make the mistake of engaging in physically demanding activities even on their rest days. Active recovery in the form of walking, very light cardio, diaphragmatic breathing, yoga, etc., is great, but don't overdo it, or you’ll defeat the purpose.

 

Lack of Focus

A lot of trainees do their sets mechanically without thinking, instead of focusing on proper form and maximal muscle contractions.

 

What to do instead:

 

Leave your phone in the car. Once you start your warm up, you should get in the zone and focus on making some serious progress. You're investing your time into this, so you should strive to make the most out of it. Forget about your problems at work, forget about what you're doing later that day, and zero in on your workout. For serious lifters, that's the best part of working out anyway. Lifting is therapy.

 

Shortcuts Make for Long Injuries

Let me restate this: injuries suck.

 

They hurt, they're inconvenient, and they rob you of months or even years of training time and progress. Make sure to follow the guidelines laid out above, and live to lift another day. All the effort is definitely worth it, in the long run.

 

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